In a vote of 185 to 124, with two abstaining, the General Conference executive committee on October 14 approved recommendations from the GC administrative committee (ADCOM) aimed to ensure church entities comply with voted actions of the GC in session and the GC executive committee (read the voted document). The afternoon business session (full video above) was part of the executive committee’s Annual Council that takes place each year in October. 

In a version of the document released by ADCOM in July, steps are outlined for disciplining leaders whose unions or conferences are out of compliance. These steps include 1) warnings, 2) public reprimands, and 3) loss of voice and vote on the GC executive committee.

Existing policies call for the administrative entity closest to the matter to deal with disciplinary issues. This new document gives ADCOM authority to bypass other entities to deal with issues directly, if it feels they aren’t being dealt with in a timely manner.

The document, which underwent several revisions before the version presented at Annual Council, also establishes “compliance review committees” charged with reporting issues of noncompliance to ADCOM. As previously reported, five such committees were established—and two of them activated—weeks ahead of the Annual Council vote.

For nearly two hours before the vote, presentations were made by GC president Ted Wilson and several other GC personnel, all stressing why they felt the recommendations must be passed. The document was then read aloud, and the floor was opened for discussion.

Each person was allowed two minutes to speak, a time limit requiring a two-thirds majority vote despite the motion to approve the document only needing a simple majority vote to pass.

In favor of the motion

Those speaking in favor of the motion were largely concerned about what could happen if church entities are allowed to disregard actions voted by the world body in session.

“Our God is a God of order,” said Mikhail Kaminskiy, president of the Euro-Asia Division. “Law and order is the base of peace and prosperity in society. Law and order is the base for unity and longevity of the country.” He went on to say law and order is part of the gospel and must be part of the church’s mission.

“Dealing with noncompliance is an antidote to disunity,” said Etwell Tapera, president of the Zimbabwe Central Union. “If we can’t abide by our own policies, who do we expect to abide by the message we preach.”

“Policies are mutual agreements. They do not dictate conscience, but they do govern our actions as church leaders,” said Mark Finley, evangelist and retired GC general vice president. “If we do not [adhere to voted actions of the world body], it will lead to fragmentation and organizational chaos.”

Opposed to the motion

Those opposed to the motion were largely concerned that it shifts the church from a bottom-up model of authority in which entities are accountable to their own executive committees and constituencies, to a top-down model in which leaders are expected to comply with policies even if it means disregarding the voted actions of their own executive committees and constituencies.

“Denmark supports the world church, its policies and voted actions,” said Thomas Muller, president of the Danish Union. “But I’m divided between policy and conscience. Please understand me, this is not just my conscience,” he said. “I speak on behalf of a collective conscience: a majority of my constituency.” He acknowledged that despite the fact the discussion has grown larger than a single issue, women’s ordination was the major catalyst for the overall debate and wondered what it communicates to future generations if the church stifles the collective consciences of his and other’s constituencies in favor of a strict adherence to policy. “What kind of Adventism am I giving to my children if we vote this kind of document,” he said. “I think there are unintended consequences like mistrust and suspicion from the top.”

“We have enough working policies, and we should be abiding by them,” said Adan Ramos Lagos, president of the Honduras Union Mission, through a translator. “I don’t see fit that we should add another document to what we already have.” He also speculated that perhaps as many as 80 percent of church entities around the world are out of compliance in one way or another and pointed out that diverting energy and resources away from reaching people for Jesus in order to ensure policy compliance is detrimental to the church’s mission.

“I believe God will discipline those He loves—that’s a promise of His—and will provide for local leadership to correct any wrongs, if we’re patient,” said Gary Thurber, president of the Mid-America Union. “The role of the GC should be one of adviser. I believe the proposed actions will cause resentment among entities and people who feel they’re being singled out while other major issues exist in other fields of the world and are, in their minds, perhaps, much worse offenses. I believe the most important role for the unity oversight committee is not to look at discipline strategies but to look at current policies and other church practices that are getting in the way of mission and unity and bring those recommendations before the world church for variance or changes.”

Dean Coridan, president of the Iowa-Missouri Conference, who had earlier issued an open letter to conference constituents stating why he believed the document needed to be voted down, also spoke against the motion (full comments in video below). “It is a significant change to the [General Conference’s] constitution to now adopt a document that would allow one level of an organization to bypass another level of the organization because they have not proceeded to deal with something in a timely way,” he said. “There are three constitutions: conference, union and General Conference. There are reasons we have these constitutions. Each are to be acknowledged, and each [constituency’s authority in their own territory] is to be honored. This document dishonors the [authority of the conference and union] constituencies [over their own] constitutions.”

In closing remarks following the vote, Elder Wilson appealed to members of the executive committee and Adventists around the world on all sides of this conflict to treat one another with respect and understanding. After two closing prayers, the meeting was adjourned.

Annual Council continues through October 17. Click here to watch live or to access the video archive.